Spousal Support 101

So, you (or someone you know) is married and is thinking about separating.  One of the reasons you put off divorce or separation is because your spouse is the breadwinner of the family and you don’t see how you could afford living on your own without the other spouse’s income.  Is there anything that might help?  The answer is “yes.”  It is called “spousal support,” also sometimes referred to as “alimony.”  Spousal support is a court-ordered payment from one party to another.

This article will discuss some of the basics of spousal support in California.  Whether you are the lower-income earner, the breadwinner, or you are happily married but just want some food for thought, this article will be educational.

There are two (2) types of spousal support in California:  1)  Pre-judgment spousal support and 2) post-judgment spousal support.  Pre-judgment spousal support is any support that may be ordered from the beginning of a divorce or legal separation case through a judgment.  Post-judgment spousal support is any support that may be ordered AFTER a judgment of divorce or legal separation has been entered with the court.

The calculation of pre-judgment and post-judgment spousal support is very different.  With pre-judgment spousal support, each county in California is free to adopt a “guideline” formula.  Most California counties have adopted one of several guideline formulas that exist.  For example, in Sacramento County, the “Santa Clara” guideline formula is used.

With post-judgment spousal support, you CANNOT use a guideline formula if you are in court in front of a judge.  Instead, you must analyze and argue approximately 14 factors that can be found in the California Family Code to arrive at a spousal support amount.  One factor is the needs of the support spouse, another factor is the ability of the supporting spouse to pay support, and the list goes on.

If someone’s divorce or legal separation case involves spousal support, there is typically a concern of how long spousal support will continue.  While there are many factors to consider, a starting point is to determine whether you have a “short term marriage” or a “long-term marriage.”  Generally speaking, the length of time for paying spousal support in a short-term marriage is less than in a long-term marriage.  It is possible that there may be no court-ordered termination date for spousal support in a long-term marriage, which means the support order is indefinite.

Spousal support is certainly considered one of the most “heated” issues in family law, particularly for the paying spouse.  It is also one of the most complex.  If you or someone you know is facing or could be facing a divorce or legal separation down the line, the best thing to do is to get educated now.  Speak to a family law attorney to “run some numbers” to get an idea what to expect and how your current lifestyle may influence spousal support.